Home Office appoints £70m ‘technology delivery partner’ to support troubled ESN programme

Department signs long-term agreement with IT services heavyweight CGI, which will support various priority projects that form part of the much-delayed programme to revamp the UK’s blue light comms infrastructure

The Home Office has signed a multimillion-pound contract for a firm to deliver a wide range of technology projects in support of the ongoing – and much-delayed – rollout of the UK’s new Emergency Services Network.

In a newly signed deal, the department has picked Canada-headquartered IT services giant CGI to provide “delivery of technology-led projects for the Home Office’s Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP)” – another name used for the ESN project.

The agreement came into effect on 25 April and runs for an initial term of five years, at a value of £51m. This figure could rise by a further £20m if the deal is extended for two further periods of one year each.

Serving as the “technology delivery partner” for the ESN rollout, CGI will be expected to “implement and deliver against a number of TDP projects”. According to the text of the contract, the engagement was put in place as the Home Office “requires additional breadth and depth of capabilities to deliver TDP projects where those capabilities are not already available and at the pace required” to support the current timelines for delivering ESN.

According to recently published commercial documents, the tender issued by the department set out “five individual projects… [that] will commence shortly after contract commencement… [these] projects cover areas such as managing change of technology suppliers, service integration, supplier assurance and live technical service design”.

“Further projects will be drawn down throughout the contract term,” the contract award notice says. “Future TDP projects will draw on the technical skill sets demonstrated by the partner in their tender response. The highest priority TDP projects will focus on work in progress at contract commencement.”

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The text of the contract outlines the Home Office’s belief that appointing a single, large IT services partner to deliver such projects on demand will provide some stability to a project that has been dogged by lengthy delays, massive cost increases, and supplier disputes.

“The [ESN] programme can leverage the expertise, capacity and capability from the market and put in place the framework to provide flexibility and scale to deliver TDP projects as required,” the contract says. “The contracted services can improve resilience and predictability for the programme whilst de-risking the programme timetable and increasing likelihood of success and timely operational delivery of ESN.”

The ESN project is replacing the country’s existing Airwave radio network for use by blue-light services with a new 4G-powered infrastructure. This work was originally slated to have concluded by 2019 but, in the most recent government projections, will now deliver the ESN platform at least a decade late, and at a cost of £12bn – double the initial estimate.

These projections could be further revised in a new overarching business case being drawn up by the Home Office following the project’s latest major setback: the termination last year of its £400m contract with core voice services supplier Motorola Solutions – which also owns the incumbent Airwave system. The decision came during a dispute which ultimately led regulators to order the telecoms firm to reduce by a collective total of £1bn the costs to government under the terms of its current Airwave contract.

Following a procurement process launched last year, the Home Office this summer expects to appoint a replacement supplier for core ESN voice and video communications – in a seven-year deal worth more than £1bn.

Sam Trendall

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